GI Learner: A project to develop geospatial thinking learning lines in secondary schools

Blog Post created by lzwartje on Jul 10, 2018

At the ESRI 2018 Education summit I presented the European funded project GI Learner. The project was a three years Erasmus+ KA2 strategic partnership project, aiming at integrating geospatial literacy, geospatial thinking and GIScience into schools. Although spatial (geo)thinking is seen as one of the most important sectors in the economy it is seldom really taught in secondary schools.


Geo-ICT is part of the digital economy identified by the European Commission as being vital for innovation, growth, jobs and European competitiveness. As a rapidly growing business sector, there is a clear and growing demand for Geo-ICT know-how (Donert, 2005).

The use of GI tools to support spatial thinking has become integral to everyday life. Through media agencies that use online interactive mapping and near ubiquitously available tools like GPS and car navigation systems, the general public has started to become aware of some of the potential of spatial data. This means it is important to establish curriculum opportunities for the use of data and build the competence of youngsters in its use.


Space and location make spatial thinking a distinct, basic and essential skill that can and should be learned in school education, alongside other skills like language, mathematics and science. The goal of GI-Learner is to integrate spatial literacy, spatial thinking and GIScience into secondary schools. In order to do this, the project (Zwartjes, 2017) followed these steps:

  1. Summarize the most important literature on learning lines and spatial thinking to have a solid scientific base
  2. Distillate out of the previous steps a distinct and essential set of geospatial thinking competencies
  3. Scan the curricula of the partner countries to identify opportunities to introduce spatial thinking and GIScience 
  4. Developed an evaluative tool to analyse the impact of the learning lines on geospatial thinking
  5. Created learning lines translating the competencies into learning objectives, teaching and learning materials for the whole curriculum (K7 to K12)


Thus the project first point (1) is a clear definition and explanation of learning lines after a deep literature review (Donert et al, 2016). A learning line is defined as an educational term for the construction of knowledge and skills throughout the whole curriculum. It should reflect a growing level of complexity, ranging from easy (more basic skills and knowledge) to difficult (Lindner-Fally & Zwartjes, 2012). On results of these, a competencies model or learning outcomes for GI-Learning has been made (2) on these learning lines using lessons plans on different topics, distillated from the curricula (3).

At the beginning and at the end of the three years period, a self-evaluation online test analysed the impact of the learning line approach (4) showing the improvement on the GIScience skills and competencies of the students.


Now for teachers most interesting is the last point: the learning materials developed. You can find all of it at the website      

www.gilearner.eu  (click on 'Course'), in 6 different languages. 

There's a teacher version with explanation on how each of the exercises links to the defined competencies, the student versions don't have this column.

All material is on Google drive, so you can save a copy on you own and adjust if needed (suppose you handle a certain subject in another year group you might adjust the questions so that they needed level of complexity as indicated in the competency model).


Some actions will be needed in the future to implement GIScience on secondary lessons, such as improve teachers training abilities and skills on this direction and aware on a new approach to the curriculum using GIScience on learning and teaching aims (Lázaro, De Miguel and Buzo, 2018).


Attached you will find the presentation I gave at the summit. 


Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.








Donert, K. (2005). Digital Earth–Digital World: Strategies for Geospatial Technologies in Twenty-First Century Education. In: Solari, O.M., Demirci, A. and van der Schee, J., Geospatial Technologies and Geography Education in a Changing World, 195-204. Springer Japan.

Donert, K.; Desmidt, F.; Lázaro, M.; González, R.; Lindner-Fally, M.; Parkinson, A.; Prodan, D.; Woloszynska-Wisniewska, E.; Zwartjes, L. (2016): The GI-Learner Approach. GI_Forum – Journal for Geographic Information Science, 2, 134-146, DOI: 10.1553/giscience2016_02_s134. Available on: http://www.austriaca.at/0xc1aa500e_0x00348f18.pdf.

Lázaro, M.L. de; Buzo, I. and De Miguel, R. (2018) El proyecto GI Learner: Retos para integrar la Geoinformación en la enseñanza de la Geografía.  In Perspectivas multidisciplinares en la sociedad del conocimiento, Valencia.

Lindner-Fally, M. & Zwartjes, L. (2012). Learning and teaching with Digital Earth–Teacher training and education in Europe. In: Jekel, T., Car, A., Strobl, J. & Griesebner, G. (eds.), GI_Forum 2012: Geovisualization, Society and Learning, 272-282, http://gispoint.de/fileadmin/user_upload/paper_gis_open/537521027.pdf

Zwartjes, L. (2014). The need for a learning line for spatial thinking using GIS in education. In R. de Miguel and K. Donert, (Eds.), Innovative Learning Geography. New challenges for the 21st Century (pp. 39-63). Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Zwartjes, L. (2012). Creating a learning line in education, GIS-education: Where are the boundaries? - 8th European GIS Education Seminar proceedings (Hubeau, M., de Bakker, M., Toppen, F., Reinhardt, W., Steenberghen, T., Van Orshoven, J. Eds.). EUGISES, Leuven, http://ees.kuleuven.be/eugises12/eugises12-seminar-proceedings.pdf

Zwartjes, L. (2017). “GI Learner, een project om georuimtelijk denken via leerlijnen in te voeren in het onderwijs” in ‘De Aardrijkskunde’, journal of the Flemish Geography Teachers Association.  Available on: http://www.gilearner.ugent.be/wp-content/uploads/GI-Learner.pdf